Parking income may fill coffers

City raising cost of fines and fees

By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / July 7, 2011

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Somerville officials charged with balancing the city’s books for the coming year had much to boast about this budget season.

After the city closed a painful $8.1 million shortfall last year that saw the outsourcing of 17 school custodial jobs and the elimination of other city positions, as well as fee increases, this year was a decidedly different story, with far fewer layoffs and the addition of several positions.

But the Traffic and Parking Department is expected to generate more revenue in fiscal 2012, and motorists who live, park, and drive in New England’s most densely populated city will feel the pinch.

The city is expecting to reap about $1.6 million in additional fines, fees, and permit costs, according to projections, part of a plan by Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone to plug a $4.5 million budget gap this year.

The bulk of the new parking income, projected at $878,447, will come from $50 fines written for expired vehicle registration and safety inspection stickers.

This is the first year that parking officers are writing the tickets.

At a June 23 Board of Aldermen meeting where officials voted to adopt the $182.8 million fiscal 2012 budget, some aldermen expressed concern about the implementation of the new fine system.

To alleviate the concerns, the aldermen, in discussions with Traffic and Parking Department head Matthew Dias, will entertain a possible three-day grace period after a motorist’s sticker has expired. Somerville police officers will not be responsible for writing the sticker tickets for parked cars.

“I’m sure everyone around this horseshoe has let their inspection sticker go to the last day of the month,’’ Alderman William Roche said at the meeting, referring to his colleagues. “If it goes beyond the second or third day of the month and I get a ticket, shame on me,’’ he said. “But with a 72-hour window there, I think that’s reasonable.’’

The grace period will not affect projected revenues, according to Dias. “That was sort of our goal all along, to allow for a grace period,’’ he said.

Alderman Maryann Heuston of Ward 2 said that by giving residents the extra time, the city could be saving them the bigger hassle of getting stopped by police, who will often tow the vehicle and fine the operator.

“We’re doing everyone a favor with this 72 hours, because if you’re on a state road, there is going to be no mercy at all,’’ she said.

However, the grace period was tabled, following disagreement over specific language changes in the parking ordinance.

Elsewhere in the traffic and parking budget, a bump in the cost of a residential parking permit, from $20 to $30, will also provide much-needed cash, to the tune of about $272,000, according to the city. The cost of a visitor parking permit will double, too, from $5 to $10, according to the city.

Although revenue from general parking fines - for infractions such as expired meters, resident parking violations, and others - is expected to decrease from about $7 million to $6.9 million, the department will be forced to do more with less.

Fees for late ticket payment will be increased, too. Scofflaw parkers who do not pay after 60 days will be assessed $20 extra, up from $15 previously after the two-month period.

Moving van permit revenue is also expected to increase $30,550 in the next fiscal year, to $133,000.

The Traffic and Parking Department was also the focus of the only layoffs in Somerville. The department gave up three enforcement officer positions in the budget process, with four more enforcement officer posts left vacant after retirements, according to the city.

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said during an earlier budget discussion that the layoffs were possible because more residents are following parking rules.

“We’ve achieved about what we want to achieve, compliance,’’ Curtatone said at a June press conference before he presented the budget.

Compliance was the goal for Davis Square resident Amy Tessendorf, 27, who said she rarely drives, but moves her car frequently to avoid street-sweeping tickets.

“That’s probably my biggest fear . . . going out and finding a ticket,’’ Tessendorf said in an interview in the Day Street lot near Davis Square.

Last year the city wrote 30,753 of the $50 violations, according to figures provided by the city, up from 29,716 in the same period a year before.

Duncan McIlvaine, 28, who lived in Somerville for five years until recently, said in an interview that he was hit with multiple street-sweeping tickets in the past, but “it was mostly my fault,’’ he said.

“There is like a cost-benefit here, because public transit is good enough,’’ McIlvaine said of avoiding car use altogether, adding that the city is “trying to incentivize that behavior.’’

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